For the past two weeks, we have addressed the theological questions from the Bible of 1.) what God is like (absolutely sovereign) and 2.) what I am like (absolutely, totally sinful). The next obvious question is, what does the Bible say about how this holy, righteous, sovereign God relates to me, this wicked, depraved sinner? The answer is even more surprising and controversial than the answer to the first two questions.
God loves me, in spite of my despicable, unrelenting sin. The Bible calls that love of God one of His defining characteristics (1 John 4:8, 16).
Obviously, we know that God “loves” us, but what does that really mean? We equate this “love” with the love we have experienced, both giving and receiving, but God’s love is totally different. For example, in the 1 Corinthians 13 description of this agape love only originating with God, which we are called to emulate, verse 5 calls it, “not easily provoked.” In other words, if I “love” someone, it takes a lot of provocation before I finally have had it with that someone who has proven to be my “enemy” and is attacking me.
The word “not” in this verse, according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, is the “absolute negative”—“never.” However, the translators could not imagine a love that was never provoked, like this verse says God’s love is, so they softened it, just a bit, with “not easily provoked”—still provokable, but not easily!
No, God’s love for us is never provoked, and it never wavers, no matter what we may think, believe or do. All God’s wrath, irritation, disappointment, discouragement, displeasure and, yes, His righteous judgment, was all poured out completely and fully on Jesus at the cross, making that cross and resurrection event the focal point of human history. He has no judgement left for us whatsoever—only love, a love whose needle never moves from “Full.”
Our relationship with God is based on, and flows from, this love. If so, His attitude towards me has nothing to do with what I do, think, or believe but is only His agape love for me. He is my sovereign Father and is in complete charge of His world and all that is in it, including my actions, beliefs, and desires, and I am free to do just as I please! Daddy’s got me and He promises to change all my “want to’s” (Philippians 2:13) as He orders all my steps (Proverbs 16:9).
So, since the cross, God is no longer a God of judgment, but now only a God of love! As one expanded translation interprets this passage more accurately, God’s love now, according to 1 Corinthians 13:5, “takes no account of the evil done to it” (Amplified Bible). He doesn’t keep track. Paul tells us that God “did away with it (our sin—past, present, and future) completely by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14 GNB), and He remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17). As Jesus cried from the cross as He died, “It is finished” (John 19:30)!. Our salvation has now been fully accomplished. There is nothing left for me to do.
Some don’t believe that Jesus really meant it when He proclaimed the finality of our salvation (that He came specifically to procure – John 3:17), with His last breath. They believe there is something left for us to do, something we must do in order to save ourselves, or we will spend eternity in Hell.
They believe we must each, somehow, muster up the faith to “believe” that Jesus died for our sins, and then we must give ourselves to Him as our Savior. If we can’t or won’t do that, we will be sent by our sovereign, agape loving God to eternal torment in Hell when we die. They believe the God who tells us to “love our enemies” sends His enemies to Hell!
However, what can I do if I just won’t or can’t, in my heart, truly believe? Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8, 9) and I can’t even seek God on my own unless God draws me (Romans 3:11, 12). I am toast, completely helpless to believe in order to save myself!
But what if in Romans 5:18—”by the righteousness of One, the free gift came upon all men unto the justification of life”—the “all men” is really true? What if God really “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)? What is He going to do if He is really “not willing any should perish?” What if our sovereign God, who does whatever He wants, really “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
What if Colossians 1:19, 20 means what it says? “For it pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell, and through Him, having made peace through the blood of His cross, it pleased the Father to reconcile all things to Himself through Him, whether the things on earth or the things in Heaven.” How does He reconcile “all things,” including rebellious, unbelieving sinners, to Himself, if they have to “believe” to be saved?
These are a few familiar verses that introduce the idea of Universal Reconciliation, or Evangelical Universalism. My book, Limitless Grace – A New Look at Hell, and available on my website, looks at these ideas carefully. It takes into account anthropomorphisms, hyperbole, the two wills of God that we have discussed and gives a brief summary of the biblical difficulties (such as all the verses on Hell as “everlasting punishment”).
The book provides biblical answers for each argument in only 75 pages. It is an initial look at this perspective, an accepted position in the early church until the idea of “scaring people into faith” was popularized in the church in about the fourth century. I have a list of other, more detailed and scholarly books than mine in the Bibliography.
In Universal Reconciliation, nothing changes theologically from traditional Christianity except Hell is not “eternal” (it is redemptive instead of punitive). It is God’s “woodshed,” where He takes His rebellious children to discipline them: “For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and whips every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6 LITV).
There they will see the truth they have denied, and they will eventually embrace it. “And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10, 11 GNB). They all will, eventually, in Hell, as God’s rod does its work, become a part of the great company who honored, in this life, Jesus as Lord and Savior!
This means that evangelism becomes, “Wake up! Haven’t you heard? Your sins (which are legion!) have all been forgiven by Jesus on the cross. Believe it, because it’s true!”
When we see this, such an unquenchable river of life begins to flow that it is impossible to remain silent, and please, don’t ever witness to anyone until you can’t keep silent, i.e., until the river is flowing! When this gospel of “grace alone” captures the church, the world will be evangelized, a la the first century, and not before! Next week we conclude our four points of theology with, “Why Am I Here?”